This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary, paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton
This dyspeptic, aging man is one of Samuel’s personae. In a flourish of typically Victorian rhetoric, he deploys overblown references with patriotic overtones, including the Battle of Alma in the Crimean War and the Spanish Armada. Count Orsini, General Lieutenant of the Papal Armies, is made a personification of wickedness, while a ‘dynamitard’ is supposedly a violent supporter of the Parisian Commune (though French dictionaries do not recognise the word). He is wrong to attribute the instrument of torture he mentions to the Spanish, as it was an English invention, properly Skevington’s Daughter, and named after a Lieutenant of the Tower of London in the reign of Henry VIII.
It would, of course, sir, be impossible to deny the truism that boys are all very well in their way –– but they generally get into somebody else's way. Talk about the child being father to the man, sir, the child is generally more than a match for the man: he is more cunning and subtle in his devices; he is a better actor –– and he can eat a lot more. As for being a cynic, why man, with all his experience, isn't in the same boat with him. A child believes far less in his fellows than a man does; he is more distrustful; he refuses to give or to lend; he even disdains feminine attractiveness and regards the overtures of female loveliness as so many wiles to cheat him out of his mint "hum-bugs," his cakes, and his hard-bake. They are a nuisance, sir, are boys, and nothing but muzzling some of them can afford a remedy to mankind, which is so grievously afflicted by them. Look at their devices; look at the boys who just now career madly along our streets, bowling hoops. Have they entangled their hoops among and about your legs yet, and have you, as a consequence, come violently to the pavement and been treated to a howl of derision from a party of unfeeling persons riding past on a paltry 'bus? Has one of those boys landed you full in the pit of your stomach yet, in his mad haste, and has he knocked you backwards against an inoffensive old lady, walking close at your heels? ‘Boys will be boys,’ you say; yes, and I wish that they wouldn’t; I wish that they would be anything else instead. Do you think the hoop fiend regrets the mischief he causes? Not a bit of it. He picks the hoop (up I mean) his hoop, as soon as you can get disentangled from it, and off he bowls till his vile wheel of torture either bounces down a cellar grating or through a shop window, in which latter case he never claims his property, but rushes off to his mother to induce her to provide him with another fiendish contrivance of the same kind.
Then, think of the boy who plays ‘tip-cat’ – the boy with two pieces of wood, the one to be struck at, and sharpened at either end, and the other a stick with which to strike it. Do you know that boy? You are walking peaceably along, and you go past a group of boys. Suddenly that sharpened piece of wood (it is like a miniature torpedo in shape) bounces up and damages your eyesight, or knocks out your front teeth, or bulges in our hat. And then the boy-fiend laughs consumedly at a respectful distance, and says that you ought to have kept out of the way kept. You will please to perceive, sir, that the comfort and safety of the public, of the adults, of the ratepayers, must entirely give place to the selfishness and cruel sport of the boy. But even tip-cat itself –– diabolical as the game is — (surely, by the-way, the old man in the ‘cook shop’ down below himself must have invented boys’ games) almost sinks into insignificance beside ‘playing’ (‘playing,’ save the mark!) at catapult. Infinite is the pain inflicted by the wielder of a catapult, and a few peas or lead pellets. You are walking in a ruminative style home to dinner, when suddenly a burning, scorching, horrible pang assails your nose. You rub it ruefully, and look round. No one is in sight except a respectable citizen or two. You proceed on your way, and, when you have gone two or three yards, another dreadful twinge comes in your right cheek. You rub that, smarting as you are with pain, and before you have finished, there is a sudden cracking sound on your hat, and a pellet rolls to your feet. You know what it is then – an invisible, cowardly catapult boy-fiend. You think that you will make a rush in the direction in which the have come. Storming the Alma was scarcely more dangerous. If you do make such a rush, shots fly merrily round and upon you, and when you have got to a street corner, two innocent-looking boys come round it whistling unconsciously. If you interrogate them they readily tell you that they saw two lads running up a passage the moment before –– in fact, it becomes a case of the proverbial ‘T'other lad, wot ran away." Your windows are mysteriously broken; there are no rioters about; you have not consciously provoked anybody's resentment –– what can it be? Your glazier's bill swells apace, and then you find pellets about the house. It is once again the catapult fiend. You have no means of redress. You may pass the identical boy ten times a day, but the deadly weapon is concealed in his trousers pocket along with a tip-cat, a cracker, the remains of a piece of treacle and bread, and a few bits of string.
Do you know (let me ask this in particular) the boy-fiend who makes the peg-top his speciality? Originally his top probably had a cast-iron tip, but cast-iron is brittle, and not sufficient for the fiend's purposes, so he drives in a piece of tough steel, and sharpens this. Then he casts his top down with fearful violence, and, if it doesn't happen to spin, it bumps up and hits some suffering passer-by. That boy-fiend practices ‘pegging’ at a mark – defaces her Majesty’s image on halfpence probably –– and sometimes, his aim being uncertain, pegs you full on your boot uppers. All old gentlemen with nobbly feet know this. Martyrdom; the rack; the boot; the ‘Scavenger's Daughter’ of the wickedly designed Armada itself could scarcely give so much agonising pain as does a peg top when it lands full on an old gentleman’s corn. And yet a lot of well-intentioned people look complacently on at boys' games.
Let me further cross-examine you, sir. Do you know the boy who goes about with little red paper packets, which be casts violently down upon the pavement, and which as a consequence explode and cause a fearful report, like a shot-gun being fired close to your ear? You are nervous and overworked — we will say — and you consult your medical man. He advises you to avoid shocks of all kinds, and to keep as free as possible from irritation. It is a fine day, and you walk out. The influence of the exercise and fresh air begin to work satisfactory results. You congratulate yourself that you have not even heard a barrel-organ, and just then an unwholesome-looking boy passes you, and there is a tremendous explosion. You almost jump out of your skin, and a wild flash courses through your mind anent dynamitards. The next moment you are a quaking wreck, with nerves unstrung and mind distraught. It is the explosive boy-fiend. That boy, you feel, will grow up an Orsini — a dynamitard, an arch-villain – unless he in the meanwhile practices amateur pyrotechny –– tries to make fireworks, in fact –– and, happily, blows himself into fragments.
Perhaps it was never your misfortune to be obliged to cross over a field on a public footway where free cricket was allowed? Perhaps you have never seen in such a field about a dozen cricket matches all being played at one time? You were never in a pitched battle, either, I presume? You have never seen cannon balls careering about in the air? Well if you want to realise what it must be like just you cross a field as that I have mentioned. The hard ‘composition’ and india-rubber balls in use are by no means a bad imitation of cannon balls, I can assure you, and you get violently struck between the eyes with one, what do you think those boys do? The boy fiend partizans [sic] of the striker of the ball set up a mad yell of anger because you have stopped the said ball and prevented run getting. I once had to cross such a field twice daily, sir, for about two years, and I was forced to make a regular monthly contract with an artist whose speciality was painting black eyes. I got to be a regular authority on the subject of ec[c]h[y]mosis. But my patience is exhausted, sir; I cannot without getting into a violent rage and throwing the inkstand at someone continue the catalogue of the satanic games indulged in by our boy-fiend. Oh, if I had but got a nice fat cat[t]apult fiend, or a tin-cat demon in here with me now! Would you hear loud applause? — rather! Would you hear dismal howls?—rather! Would that boy be able to indulge in what [W. S.] Gilbert calls ’the seated attitude" for some time ? Ask me not, I do conjure thee. But I know, sir, I know!
Last modified 24 October 2021